By Kim Robson:
As a follow-up to our DIY Dog Food article, let’s turn our attention to homemade cat food. Store-bought dry kibble can be contaminated with bacteria, fungal mycotoxins, insects and insect feces, not to mention being high in carbohydrate-rich fillers and plant-based (as opposed to animal-based) proteins. Also, dry kibble is just that: dry. That lack of water can lead to urinary tract infections or life-threatening obstructions.
Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they are required to eat an exclusively meat-only diet by necessity, or their health will fail. For them, meat is biologically essential, not optional. Cats can’t make vitamin A from beta-carotene the way humans or dogs can, nor can they form niacin from tryptophan; they require these nutrients in their preformed state. (This is why cats sometimes feel compelled to eat grass — for the niacin.) Cats also need a lot of taurine, which is found almost exclusively in animal flesh. Arginine, another amino acid found in animal flesh, is so critical to cats that going without can lead to death. Luckily, all meat sources contain an abundance of these requirements. Cats must eat meat to live. In fact, they’re so dependent on animal protein that they will break down their own body muscle and organs if their diet is lacking enough for their own needs.
A wild cat’s diet is pretty simple. They eat small animals but usually leave behind the stomach, intestines and maybe a few bones. They do not consume measurable amounts of grains, vegetables or fruits — ingredients often found in many commercial and raw pet foods.
In fact, there’s a movement of terribly misguided vegans out there who think it’s a great idea to feed their cats a vegetarian diet. Let’s be clear: it’s NOT. It is, in fact, cruelty; and, as such, it should be reported to authorities as criminal animal abuse.
First, among those who make their own cat food, there is some debate about raw vs. cooked, with proponents arguing for either 100% raw or 100% cooked. Raw can pose a risk of bacteria or parasites; cooked can result in nutrient loss from heating and processing. Veterinarian Lisa A. Pierson, DVM, advises a healthy balance between the two by partially cooking meat just enough to kill any surface bacteria — a ratio of approximately 25-50% cooked to 50-75% raw — but ultimately aiming for a 10-20% surface cook. What’s more important is how the meat is sourced and prepared.
Follow the recipe precisely, or don’t bother. Don’t get creative and substitute/add/eliminate ingredients. This recipe is for healthy cats with no medical dietary issues or dental problems. You will need a meat grinder, long gloves, a box of quart-sized Ziploc freezer bags or other containers, and freezer space. If you want to, you can freeze the food in ice cube trays for easier portioning and faster thawing, then transfer the cubes to Ziploc bags. If you don’t want to invest in a meat grinder, you can pay your local butcher to grind the meat for you, but do NOT buy pre-ground meat because it’s full of bacteria. Most bacteria reside at the surface, not the interior, but when it’s all ground up, the bacteria are all ground in.
- 2 to 2-¼ lbs. whole carcass ground rabbit + ¾ to 1 lb. boneless chicken or turkey meat + skin + fat (*preferred*) OR3 lbs. chicken or turkey thigh meat + bones + skin
- 3 to 4 oz. chicken liver (unless using ground rabbit, which already includes organs)
- 1 cup water
- 2 egg yolks
- (5 to 10) 1,000 mg capsules of fish oil (NO cod liver oil)
- (1) 400 IU (268 mg) capsule of Vitamin E in the d-tocopherol (natural) form
- (1) 50 mg capsule or tablet of Vitamin B-complex
- 2,000 mg of taurine powder
- 1 tsp low-sodium salt with iodine for chicken OR½ tsp for rabbit + chicken
- Kelp (contains iodine, so use sparingly w/ chicken only, not at all w/ rabbit + chicken)
- Dulse flakes (red algae, for trace minerals)
- Hearts (good source of taurine but chicken hearts are not as high in taurine as mouse hearts, so still use the added taurine)
- Gizzards (very fibrous and tough to chew and great dental exercise. Incorporate them with the muscle meat. Include gizzard weight in the 3 lbs. of meat/bone/skin in recipe)
Never Use These:
Potatoes, pumpkin, squash, rice, grains, etc. (can result in protein malnutrition and contribute to diabetes)
Putting It All Together:
For rabbit + chicken: Thaw the ground rabbit and combine with ground or chunked chicken/turkey thigh meat and skin. Then simply dissolve all the supplements in the water and mix the resulting slurry thoroughly into the meat.
For chicken/turkey thighs: Cook meat at 350 degrees for 15 minutes — should be about 50% raw. Save and incorporate any fat drippings. Remove some of the raw meat and cut into ½-inch chunks. If using liver, cook thoroughly (approx. 20 min.), as bacteria can live not just on the surface, but in the interior of the organ. Run the meaty bones, non-chunked meat, skin, liver and eggs through the meat grinder. Then dissolve all the supplements in the water, and mix the resulting slurry thoroughly into the meat.
This recipe produces about 10 to 14 days of food for one cat. Plan on feeding your cat approximately 4 to 6 ounces per day. This may be adjusted, depending on your cat’s activity level and caloric needs, how much water you add to the recipe, and how fatty the end result is. Fat has more calories than protein and is more calorically dense.
Cats prefer food that’s warm (like a fresh kill), so warm up their food in a plastic bag in a bowl of warm water or in the microwave. If using the microwave, food should not be cooked but warmed just enough in short bursts to reach “mouse body temperature.”
Transitioning to New Food:
Remember that many cats won’t embrace a new food right away. Give them time and patience. If they don’t take to the new food immediately, don’t panic. Here are some tricks you can utilize:
- Mix the new food with their old food at a 10% new to 90% old ratio. Gradually increase the ratio to 100% new diet.
- Serve a full meal when your cat is between 12 to 18 hours hungry to get him/her used to chewing on meat chunks. Hunger goes a long way toward motivation!
- Coat the meat chunks in parmesan cheese or FortiFlora, a probiotic supplement that pet food manufacturers coat kibble with in order to make it tastier.
- Add a wee bit of bacon fat to individual meals to make them more enticing.
Click here for more of Dr. Pierson’s “Tips for Transitioning.”
More Tips and Hints:
- Source ground rabbit directly from a rabbit farm like com.Their Extra Fine Double Ground comes in 3-lb packages, and includes the meat and bones; organs (skin, hair, stomach, and intestines) are removed. On the East Coast, Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow is another option.
- Chicken and turkey whole thighs (never buy pre-ground!) from the supermarket should be lightly cooked to kill surface bacteria.
- Regarding chicken or turkey, look for pasture-raised or certified humane (best) or free-range/free-roaming (next best) and antibiotic-free meat.
- Some cats prefer thigh meat over breast meat because thigh meat has a higher fat content.
- If your supplements are in gelatin capsule form, soak them in some warm water to soften, then release the contents. Capsules containing powdered ingredients simply can be opened and poured out. Hard tablets should be crushed in a mortar before adding.
- Incorporate any blood that comes with the ground meat, as blood contains valuable nutrients, including sodium and potassium.
- When storing in the freezer, choose a container size whose contents can be used with within 2 to 3 days after being completely thawed.